Flood warning issued for south-central Montana

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for south-central Montana after 0.5 to 1 inch of rain fell in the Beartooth Mountains overnight Sunday into Monday.

Rock Creek flows along South Broadway Avenue in Red Lodge on Saturday.

AMY LYNN NELSON, Billings Gazette

“Much of it fell on a mature snowpack above 8,500 feet (2,600 meters) and likely enhanced snowmelt and runoff into small streams and rivers originating in the mountains,” the weather service wrote on its website.

“It may take 12 to 24 hours for this rainwater to reach more densely populated foothill areas from the mountains,” the warning continues. “Since rivers are already flooding, this additional rainwater may cause them to overflow their banks. The probability of minor flooding of small streams and rivers in the warning area is 70%.”

The warning applies to southwestern Carbon, southern Park, southwestern Stillwater and southwestern Sweet Grass counties.

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Areas that may experience flooding include: Red Lodge, Bearcreek, Chico Hot Springs, Nye, McLeod, Mystic Lake, Dean, Alpine, Pine Creek, Jardine, Chico, Emigrant, Roscoe, Fishtail, Luther, Corwin Springs, Fox and Washoe.

Due to reduced rainfall in the Crazy Mountains, the flood warning for this region has been lifted.

The Stillwater River continued to rise Monday, approaching its flood mark, inundating access roads, a boat ramp, and parking and campgrounds at the Whitebird fishing access point between Columbus and Absarokee, requiring a partial closure.

Snowmelt in the Beartooth Mountains has increased the river's flow to 7,300 cubic feet per second. Normally, the flow is half that at this time of year. The maximum flow recorded on the river on June 10 was 7,810 cubic feet per second and was recorded in 1957.

The river's flood stage is 7.5 feet. By Monday, the Stillwater had risen to nearly 7 feet, and temperatures of 80 degrees or more are expected for the rest of the week.

“Snowmelt will continue to keep water levels on waterways high throughout the week,” the weather service warned.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has banned vehicle access to the Whitebird FAS. Foot access is still permitted, but visitors must be careful not to block roads, gates or other access points when parking. Visitors are asked to use caution on river banks this time of year as conditions and water levels can change quickly.

Once conditions permit and all post-flood maintenance is completed, Whitebird FAS will reopen to vehicle traffic.

The flood warnings come at a time when many residents in the region are still recovering from the damage caused by a similar rain-on-snow event in June 2022 floods.

Rock Creek, which flows through Red Lodge, had a flow rate of 1,180 cfs, compared to the usual 474 cfs for that day. The discharge broke the record of 990 cfs set for that date in 2018.

Rock Creek's highest water level was 7.98 feet on June 13, 2022. By Monday morning, the water level had dropped to about 7.25 feet.

The Boulder River at Big Timber had a flow of 5,880 cfs and continued to rise, compared to the median of 2,819 cfs on June 10.

The Clarks Fork Yellowstone River appeared to have stabilized at a flow of about 7,650 cubic feet per second and was about a foot below the flood mark.

On Monday, the Yellowstone River near Billings recorded a water level of 36,800 cubic feet per second, 12,400 cubic feet per second above normal for the day.

Anna Harden

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